A prayer all Colombians know
I was probably never as cool as when I dated Isabella — a divorced journalist with tattoos and a pack of cigarettes never too far away from her pockets. I was probably never cool, but she represented everything I wasn’t supposed to date.
In Colombia, people still live by “el que dirán,” or what would others say. And apparently, people would’ve had a lot to say about Isabella.
But I didn’t care.
I was in college then, and I was a big man — who still lived under my mom’s roof like all good Colombian kids do. But a big man, nonetheless, and no one would tell me what to do or who to date. So I dated Isabella.
But I should’ve listened. Not because they were right about all the stupid prejudicial shit. But because we never had strong physical chemistry. The tragedy of that short fling was that Isabella and I were probably attracted to each other’s brains. And because boys in the early twenties don’t know how to be friends with the opposite sex, I ruined it.
When I felt the flame fizzle out, I stop returning her calls or seeing her. Eventually, she just told my best friend that she understood the message and that the only thing she regretted was that I didn’t have the balls to tell her in person because that ruined our friendship.
Have I mentioned men sucked? We do.
Hopefully, on the way, we learn.
I never knew how to end a relationship. My girlfriends either broke my heart, or I broke theirs — the cruel, reckless irony of learning how to love.
And I never had the balls.
But I do have regrets. Plenty of them.
I regret not having a better relationship with Isabella.
I enjoyed talking to her.
We connected through our love of literature. She introduced me to some experimental novelists famous in dark circles at the time. One of which was Efraim Medina Reyes who wrote, ‘Técnicas de Masturbación entre Batman y Robin’ (Masturbation Techniques Between Batman and Robin).
The one thought I remember Isabella being obsessed about might’ve come from him.
She used to say, “piensa en esto: piensa en lo bonito que ea tomar agua cuando tienes sed, comer cuando tienes hambre y dormir cuando estás cansado.” (Think about this: think in the beauty of drinking water when you are thirsty, eating when you are hungry and sleeping when you are tired.)
It might’ve been him. It might have been a sentiment already replicated in literature and history over and over again; to do the things we need to do not only at the time we crave them but at the time we need them. To experience pleasure after restrain and toil, to quench our yearning only when we have earned it.
That kind of reverie seems mystical and almost religious to me when I think about it these days.
It reminds me of a prayer all Colombians living in the country in the 90s will recognize.
Colombia had two news channels, Caracol and RCN. Before cable and before news stations, the news will only come on for 30 minutes with commercials twice a day: at noon and seven. Between the narcos, the guerrillas, the political corruption, the crime and the uncertainty, we always lived in a state of constant drama.
The events outside our household were a theater of violence that would no doubt at some point touch all Colombians. We all lost someone to violence, we all knew of friends and family who had been kidnapped, or their houses invaded by common criminals, or held at gunpoint on the streets at night or during the day — the time didn’t matter if I think about it.
But the news was reserved for the more outrageous events that happened out there in the mountains where the marijuana and the poppy for the heroine grew.
Those slots were reserved for the more sensationalist and explosive, especially explosive, like the movie theater bombed by the Medellin drug cartels in Bogotá.
Or the politician who was gunned down by a “parrillero” (passenger in a motorcycle typically killing with a mini Uzi) and gunning down mothers, fathers, and innocent pedestrians that were unlucky enough to be walking by the politician.
Or the town invaded by the FARC where once they were done killing the innocent farmers, they beheaded a man. They were so high up on coke, adrenaline and violence that they played “fútbol” with the head.
Or the woman who smuggled a 9mm up her bum into jail to aid a prison escape.
Or the bomb attack perpetrated by assembling a bomb on a donkey and then sending said donkey into town.
That was the backdrop to our daily dramas; it was even the backdrop for when we were on the receiving end of that violence.
I still don’t know how Colombia keeps making it into the list of happiest countries in the world.
Maybe that is precisely why we are so happy; we lived under a constant reminder that we could be next, that any day can be our last, that we can go out the door and catch a “bala perdida” (a strayed bullet) and that the violence will visit us regardless of our station in life — education or no education, money or no money, power or no power, ghetto or mansion.
So we laughed. We laughed at the church; we laughed at the government; we laughed at our moms, our friends, our employees; we laughed at the dearly-departed and at the thank-god-they-departed. In short, we laughed at life because life is a fucking joke. And laughing is an act of defiance. A stance and a commitment you had to renew every day because coming back home was never a guarantee — it never is.
Right before the seven o’clock news, el padre Rafael García Herreros would come on. He was a catholic priest and a social activist. He always had a short one or two minutes reflection. He was soft-spoken, with a calming energy that can only be described as beautiful and, at the end of every reflection, he would always finish it with the prayer that Colombians would recognize,
“Díos mío, en tus manos ponemos este día que paso, y la noche que llega.”
(My god, in your hands we put the day that has gone by and the night that arrives.)
The surrender expressed in that prayer always feels sublime to me, even after 30 years of knowing it. It has a similar mystical spirituality that sleeping when exhausted has.
I’m not religious.
At least not anymore.
I thought I was an atheist, but as I grew older and let go of my old frustrations and resentments, I’m not so sure anymore. I can appreciate the serendipity of life, nature, and the universe, and I think that it is so much beauty can’t be random. I live in a space where I can tell myself that maybe there is something bigger out there and I can feel comfortable admitting — knowing full well that it is not the right thing to do to look intellectual and hip.
Even though I’m not religious, I confess to having stolen little nuggets of wisdom from the religion I grew up with. The ideas I found valuable; morality, kindness and compassion. I can still practice those without visiting god in a specific building.
I stole that prayer.
I think of it every night as I guide my daughter through a haphazardly concocted non-religious prayer.
When I think of it, I think of the surrender that comes with admitting that the day is gone and everything I could’ve done has been done. I think of it when I accept the sanctity of the night and the rest that comes with it.
It doesn’t matter what happened in the day. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday. We can always rejoice in our toil, leaving the past behind, and welcoming what lies ahead; drinking water when we are thirsty and sleeping when we are exhausted.